Special to South Florida Times
Behind the yellow crime-scene tape at the neatly-kept green-and-beige house, there was still a basketball post and net, a white SUV, recycle bins and patio furniture in the backyard – a scene of life.
But this home, at 1225 W. 30th St., Riviera Beach, where Natasha Whyte-Dell, and her seven children lived, is now a scene of tragedy.
Just before 2 a.m. Monday, police said, Patrick Alexander Dell, 41, entered the home and shot his estranged wife and five of her children, then turned the gun on himself after police arrived. By then, Whyte-Dell and four of her children were dead in what police said is the worst mass murder-suicide incident in Palm Beach County’s history.
Another child, Ryan Barnett, 15, survived, and is in the hospital with a gunshot wound to the neck.
The couple’s biological children, Natasha Precious Dell, 3, and Patrick Alexander Dell Jr., 1, were unharmed. They are staying with their mother’s relatives.
The dead include Whyte-Dell, Bryan Barnett, 14; Diane Barnett, 13; Jevon Nelson, 11; and Daniel Barnett, 10. The children attended Palm Beach County schools, which grief counselors visited after the tragedy.
Michael Barnett, father of four of the children, told reporters his surviving son is doing better than he expected. The boy is listed in critical, but stable condition. Relatives say he is expected to survive.
According to court documents and police reports, the couple, both from Jamaica, who married in 2006, had a long history of domestic violence. Neighbors said a jealous and enraged Dell tormented his estranged wife constantly and once chased her with a knife until she sought refuge in a friend’s house.
The friend, Shawana Habersham, told reporters she and Whyte-Dell barricaded themselves inside her house as Dell screamed obscenities outside the door then slashed the tires on Whyte-Dell’s vehicle and told her, “You will be going to the morgue.”
Habersham said Whyte-Dell told her officials of the Florida Department of Children and Families wanted to talk to her about the incident but, she said, no one contacted her.
Whyte-Dell had obtained a restraining order against Dell but he stalked her nonetheless, friends said. She reportedly filed for divorce on three occasions but did not proceed with any of the cases. She told police she always took him back because she felt sorry for him. However, she said the knife-wielding incident left her in fear for her life.
Dell was arrested after the December 2009 attack on felony aggravated assault but was convicted of misdemeanor improper exhibition of a dangerous weapon, according to the Palm Beach Post.
The night before the murder-suicide, neighbors told reporters, Dell had been drinking. One man said he was overheard in a restaurant saying that he was going to kill his family.
Riviera Beach Mayor Thomas Masters told reporters at City Hall it was the worst day he’s experienced since becoming mayor of the predominantly black beachfront city. Congressman Alcee Hastings, whose district includes Riviera Beach, issued a statement offering support to the family.
Palm Beach County’s victims services department, Riviera Beach police and the Florida Department of Children and Families are all reaching out to the sole survivor and his siblings. A top DCF official Terry Borman, Southeast regional director, said in a televised hearing before the Palm Beach County Commission on Tuesday that after investigating Dell in January for the knife-wielding incident, the agency could have taken steps to guarantee the family’s safety but failed to do so. DCF is now reviewing its procedures as a result, he said. The hearing had been scheduled before the tragedy but commissioners wanted answers on the incident.
Ryan, who survived the attack, is a student at William T. Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens and his principal has reached out to him in the hospital. Whyte-Dell, his mother, had said in her request for a restraining order that Ryan frequently intervened in fights between his stepfather and her, trying to protect her.
In the wake of the tragedy, Jamaican and Caribbean organizations have formed an alliance to raise funds for the family and the survivors. Attorney Junior Farquharson, a spokesman for the group, said the aim is to assist the family in different ways, including setting up trust funds for the children.
The group is also planning to obtain counseling for Michael Barnett. The grieving father told reporters his children had been “his heart.”
The support group is also planning to host a series of community forums on domestic violence.
Funeral arrangements have not been finalized. Anyone wishing to donate to the family should call Farquharson, 561-723-3605 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or Grace Episcopal Church in West Palm Beach, 561-845-6060.
ALAN LUBY/FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES. Home destroyed: Well-wishers placed teddy bears and flowers at the house at 1225 W. 30th St., Riviera Beach, scene of a tragedy in which a man killed his estranged wife, four children and himself.